How has hockey made my life better? I’ve made dozens of friends and business associates—not to mention how it keeps me in shape.
By Warren Tabachnick
Being fortunate enough to play hockey has made my life better in so many ways.
It all began almost 30 years ago, when my wife asked me what I wanted for my birthday. At the time, the only hockey I’d been playing was on my Nintendo. (You can well imagine how archaic that game was compared to today’s hockey video games made for Xbox and PlayStation.) Having grown up in Montreal I had been thinking about taking up skating again, especially since I was now the father of two young sons. I needed to be “involved.”
So to answer my wife, I told her I wouldn’t mind if she bought me a pair of skates. She asked whether I wanted figure skates or hockey skates; I thought that since I didn’t play hockey, it would be best if I went with the figure skates. And then, after some waffling back and forth—I’m not really sure why—I decided on the hockey skates.
At the local pro shop, Norm (the owner) asked my wife, “Does your husband play hockey?” That simple question turned out to be a win-win situation, for both me and the pro shop. She brought home the skates, along with the shop’s business card and an invitation for me to come to the shop and “try on” some hockey gear. What the hey, I thought. Let’s see what he has to say.
A few days later I ventured over to the shop, where Norm gave me the name of an adult hockey league looking to teach beginners how to play hockey. So with that in mind I decided I would learn to play, and he went to work outfitting me from head to toe.
I called this adult hockey league and signed up. At the initial meeting I learned that the season would consist of 8 lessons, followed by 8 games. Although I’d done my share of skating growing up north of the border, I had never played hockey before—or any other sport for that matter (my teammates would attest to that!). Add to that a chronic asthma condition and being legally blind in one eye, that posed some challenges. But money is the great equalizer: as long as I was willing to pay, I could play (at least in theory).
Dressing up in hockey gear for the first time can take what seems like forever. Once I was done, it was a thrill just to look like a hockey player. I left the locker room and proudly headed to the adjacent outdoor rink. I took that first step onto the ice and down I went. Every hockey player has experienced this at one time or another: Trying to skate with skate guards on will stop you dead in your tracks.
Once I got that sorted out, I took my place with my fellow classmates along the boards and awaited the start of my first lesson. A moment later a short woman appeared, along with her doofy assistant. Soon orders were shouted out, commanding us to start skating. SKATE! For the beginner hockey player, trying to propel yourself with 20 lbs of equipment can require an almost herculean effort.
It really was quite a sight to see: guys were falling all over the place. After a bit of time had passed, we managed to get it together and skate around the perimeter of the rink with some degree of normalcy. Since no one on the ice had developed their hockey legs, 10 minutes into the skate we were almost ready to collapse in exhaustion. Thankfully, we were soon instructed to take a water break.
Five minutes later, we were told we’d be doing skating drills: around one circle clockwise, the next circle counterclockwise, while doing what resembled crossovers. It was like boot camp: The instructors were screaming, guys were tripping over their skates—a real comedy show. Finally, the lesson was over. Steam was coming off our bodies from the exertion. And I could hardly wait till next week’s lesson.
Over the course of the next few weeks, we learned the basics: skating; crossovers; backward skating; positioning; passing; and shooting. Just imagine how cold it was at 10 o’clock on a Tuesday night, on an ODR in the dead of winter. But we didn’t care at all. We were learning to play hockey.
There were enough players to form two teams, so when the lessons were completed it was finally time to play hockey. And so for the next 8 weeks, we’d meet at the rink and play. I was having the time of my life, and I was hooked. The season came to a close and I couldn’t wait till the next one.
The new season couldn’t come fast enough. I signed up with the league, and was instructed to order their “regulation” team jerseys and socks (both home and away; they were very realistic). The day they arrived marked the beginning of my hockey “career”: I was now a Hockey Player. And it was only weeks away till the puck would drop in my first official game.
The team I was assigned to consisted of a mixed bag in terms of skill level. There were those who played organized hockey in high school; others who played pick-up hockey or roller hockey; and then there were guys like me: beginners that never played hockey before. That league places a high priority on parity, so there were no Gretzkys or Sid the Kids in the division. It was D-level hockey.
Occasionally there’d be a hot shot on another team that would skate circles around everyone. That proved to be very frustrating to us; no doubt it led to numerous hooking and tripping penalties against us. But sooner or later, the league administrators would heed the call to move the hot shot up a level or two.
Our games would take place at various rinks in the area, giving us the feel of a “home” or “away” game. During the peak hockey season the start times were 10 pm or later, but that didn’t matter. A few cups of coffee the next day would see me through till dinner time (almost). And when I finally scored that first goal, I felt like I was skating in the clouds. I hardly slept a wink.
Now I couldn’t get enough hockey. At the end of the season I played spring hockey. And when that season ended, I played summer hockey. It became a year-round habit. But that still wasn’t enough. My buddy convinced me to join a second league, so I was playing at least twice a week. I was in hockey heaven.
As I got older, my original team got younger (read: faster; better). The team moved up a division, and I felt it was best for both the team and myself to move to another team. After making all those friends it was kind of sad, but you’ve got to roll with the punches.
How Did Hockey Make My Life Better?
So how did hockey make my life better? Through the years, I’ve made dozens of friends—with both men and women—from all walks of life. Playing hockey has improved my fitness, making it fun to stay in top shape. Hockey has opened up an entire network to me, providing everything from doctors and dentists, lawyers and accountants, to electricians, plumbers, HVAC technicians, and everything in between.
Hockey has made my life better by giving me the ability to get out of the house for a couple of hours a week. It provides a chance to take a break from the stresses of everyday life. It’s given me the opportunity to enjoy the company of my teammates and friends, if only for an hour over a beer (smelly locker rooms notwithstanding).
Hockey is a great way to keep fit and a healthy way to blow off steam. It can be cheaper than going to health clubs or hanging out in bars.
Hockey has made my life better by teaching me the value of being a teammate, where the sum is greater than the parts. There is no “I” in team. Hockey has taught me the importance of doing your best, putting it all on the line for the sake of the team. And to me, there is nothing better than that.
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